Rob Epstein



Rob Epstein, also credited as Robert P. Epstein (born April 6, 1955 in New Jersey), is an American director, producer, writer and editor. Epstein has won two Academy Awards for Best Documentary Feature, for the films The Times of Harvey Milk and Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt.
In making the transition to scripted narrative, Epstein wrote, directed, and produced (with Jeffrey Friedman), the feature film Howl, starring James Franco as young Allen Ginsberg. Howl was the opening night film of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, and in the official competition at the Berlin International Film Festival. Howl won the 2010 Freedom of Expression Award from the National Board of Review.

Epstein is the recipient of numerous other awards. Epstein began his filmmaking career at at the age of 19, after taking a bus from New York City to San Francisco. Soon after arriving on the west coast, he answered a classified ad for a documentary seeking a production intern. This led Epstein to become the youngest of six filmmakers in the Mariposa Film Group, the entity responsible for directing the landmark 1977 documentary Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives, considered to be the first feature documentary about the gay experience in America. The film played in theaters and was broadcast nationally on PBS, an unusual occurrence for a documentary at that point in time. After Word Is Out, Epstein set out on his own to make a film about a series of events occurring in San Francisco in the late 1970s, which eventually became the film The Times of Harvey Milk. During the five years it took make the film, Epstein worked a series of jobs to support himself, including as a concessionaire at the Castro Theatre, and as an assistant editing on feature and documentary films. Written, directed, and co-edited by Epstein, The Times of Harvey Milk premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in September 1984. USA Today called the film "the hit of the festival" and from there it went on to the New York Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival where it won a Special Jury Award, and the Berlin Film Festival. The film became an international sensation and is still in distribution throughout the world.

At the age of 29, Epstein won an Oscar for The Times of Harvey Milk along with producer Richard Schimechen, becoming the first "out" filmmakers to do so on the Oscar broadcast. In addition to the Oscar, The Times of Harvey Milk went on to receive the New York Film Critics Award for Best Non-Fiction Feature, three Emmy Awards, and a Peabody Award. In 2000, The Times of Harvey Milk was selected by the Sundance Institute and UCLA Film and Television Archive as a preservation project and for the first time the film was blown-up to 35mm. In 1986, Epstein made an early AIDS documentary for PBS with Peter Adair, titled The AIDS Show, and in 1987, he was a producer/director on a public television series called We The People. This documentary TV series was the first time he worked with Editor Jeffrey Friedman. Their sensibilities and creative styles clicked. In 1987, the two formed Telling Pictures, a San Francisco-based production company and set about on their first collaboration which was the HBO documentary Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt, inspired by the AIDS Memorial Quilt founded by Cleve Jones. Epstein won his second Academy Award for Documentary Feature with Common Threads, as well as another Peabody. In 1995, Epstein and Friedman wrote and directed The Celluloid Closet, based on Vito Russo's landmark book of the same title. Released by Sony Pictures Classics, narrated by Lily Tomlin, the film depicts 100 years of gay and lesbian characters in Hollywood movies.  Epstein and Friedman's next feature documentary Paragraph 175 premiered at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury Prize for Directing, and at the Berlin Film Festival where it won the FIPRESCI (International Film Critics Association Award).